AN ‘invaluable’ report has identified the improvements needed at GP and dental practices in Swindon when it comes to looking after people with learning disabilities.

Four fully-trained volunteers sent by Healthwatch Swindon to survey nine different local practices made a number of recommendations, including longer appointment times, clearer signage and better access into some of the buildings.

Jo Osorio, development officer for the health and social care champion, said: “This was a fantastic opportunity, not only to feed back to services about how they can support and meet the needs of someone who has a learning disability, but also for these volunteers to use their ‘lived experience’ to help shape how local services are run.

“We know people with learning disabilities face health inequalities and poorer outcomes when accessing health services. The insight these volunteers have provided is invaluable.”

Ridge Green Medical Practice, Old Town Surgery, Hermitage Surgery, Park Lane Practice, Crossroads Surgery, Euro Dental, Ambience Dental Practice, Hawthorn Medical Centre and Sanford House were visited as part of the survey.

Improvements to car parking spaces, introducing doors with a push button and ramps, providing signs and information in Easy Read and making appointment times longer were among the suggestions made by Healthwatch volunteers.

A spokesman for Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group said: “Although each GP practice is responsible for managing the accessibility of its own premises, the CCG clearly has a vested interest in ensuring patients are never disadvantaged when attempting to visit their local surgery.

“In the past, the CCG has worked closely with both practice staff and patients to improve accessibility, with a recent example being the introduction of specially adapted signage at Eldene Health Centre.

“This latest report from Healthwatch Swindon details the invaluable work the organisation does on behalf of local people, and we look forward to continuing our close working relationship and doing what we can, where appropriate, to act on the views of patients and their families.”

Healthwatch gathered 980 pieces of feedback to help set up improvement plans.

Volunteer Moya Pinson said: “Regular surveys can check that managers doing their job, especially with any change of staff.

“Regular surveys make sure that any necessary needs are in place and actually applied. I hope regular surveys remind staff and managers to apply and not just note all this on a paper.

“The biggest problem in any service is being judged by staff and not being encouraged.”

Dawn Dixon, CEO of the Swindon Advocacy Movement, said: “Our volunteers worked towards addressing that inequality and achieved a lot from the partnership work between Healthwatch Swindon and SAM on the Quality Checkers project.

“We advised on how signage could be made clearer and advocated for double appointment ties for people with learning disabilities.

“At the same time The volunteers developed valuable skills and confidence. Our members are keen to do more and, together with Healthwatch, we are hoping further funding can be found to support the project.”